Ex-NFL Linebacker Considering Illinois Senate Bid

Harris greets fans at a 2004 Oakland Raiders home game. (Stephen Dunn/Getty Images File Photo)
Harris greets fans at a 2004 Oakland Raiders home game. (Stephen Dunn/Getty Images File Photo)
Posted April 21, 2015 at 5:06pm

Illinois state Sen. Napoleon Harris, a Chicago-area Democrat and former National Football League linebacker, is mulling a bid for Senate, according to multiple sources in the state.  

His candidacy would set up a primary in a top Senate contest, with national Democrats squarely behind Democratic Rep. Tammy Duckworth to take on Republican Sen. Mark S. Kirk.  

Harris declined to comment when CQ Roll Call reached him by phone Tuesday.  

“I’m not going to elaborate at this time,” he said. “There’s plenty of time to discuss this at a future date.”  

Harris, 36, played college football at Northwestern University before becoming a first-round draft pick for the Oakland Raiders in 2002.  

Kirk is a top Democratic target in 2016 and his seat is vital to the party’s hopes of netting five seats and the Senate majority. Kirk won in 2010 by a slim margin against a lackluster Democratic opponent in a GOP wave election.  

The incumbent now faces re-election in a state President Barack Obama carried twice and he will likely need to woo a large percentage of Democratic voters to split their tickets.  

Democrats, who would prefer not to hand him any advantages, hope to avoid a costly primary for a seat expected to be among the most expensive in the country. The party scored a victory this month when Rep. Bill Foster opted against a bid of his own.  

Democrats in Illinois say Harris, who played seven seasons in the NFL and owns pizza franchises in the state, has the ability to self-fund. He is also African-American, which could help him earn support from the sizable black population in Chicago.  

But operatives add some of Harris’ issue stances could hurt in a Democratic primary. He was one of two Democrats to vote “present” when the Illinois state legislature legalized same-sex marriage in 2013.  

“The senator has demonstrated interest in moving up quickly, and since he comes out of nontraditional quarters of the Democratic Party out here, it’s taken some people by surprise,” said Tom Bowen, a Chicago-based Democratic operative.  

Harris has attempted to run for Congress in the past. When Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. resigned in disgrace, Harris announced a bid for the special election to fill the vacancy in his South Chicago-based seat. He ultimately dropped out and endorsed now-Rep. Robin Kelly, who is also contemplating a Senate bid .  

The Illinois Senate race is rated a Tossup by the Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report/Roll Call.  

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